There’s been a curse on the Baskerville Family for generations, and with the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, it appears that there may be more of truth and less of fiction to the legend than people want to believe. Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead on the grounds of his estate, and from the expression left on his face it may have been fear that caused his death. But footprints have been found nearby and they just might possibly be those of the gigantic hound that’s been part of the curse all these many years. It’s now become a concern that Sir Henry Baskerville, who’s next in line to the family fortune and has just arrived from Texas, where he now calls home, may be the next victim of the curse.
Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in 1887, making the career of the illustrious detective 129 years old. He would be surprised to find out that his has become a brand name, more people able to identify him than William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United State (perhaps because poor William was president for only 30 days). Holmes’s name and most of the stories that tell of his exploits are now in the public domain, which is why playwright Ken Ludwig was able to write the hilariously funny spoof “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” without fear of retribution from the Conan Doyle estate and why Meadow Brook Theatre can put on their hugely entertaining production of his play as their first offering for the 2016/17 season.
The storyline for Ludwig’s Sherlock Holmes mystery closely follows “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, one of four Holmes novels Doyle wrote in a career that focused mainly on short stories. The setting for the play is Sir Charles’s estate near the moors outside of the city of London at the end of the nineteenth century. Holmes and Watson have been called in to investigate the death of Sir Charles. When they arrive at their destination, they find a good many people scurrying about the estate, all of whom are considered suspects and all of whom are the prime source of the show’s hilarity.
Holmes, played by Ron Williams, and Watson, played by Phil Powers, are the only members of the cast who appear as a single character. Even though Holmes gets top billing here, as he always does, it’s Watson’s turn to shine as Holmes returns to London and Watson is left behind to search out the clues. Phil Powers makes good use of his comedic skills as he alone is left to engage the lengthy list of eccentric characters. Three actors, Peter Pouty, Cheryl Turski, and David Wolber, play all of the remaining three-dozen plus characters. It’s a quirky bunch, from Sir Charles’s friend Dr. Mortimer (Prouty) to Sir Henry (Wolber). Turski plays a dozen or so characters many whose English has been stunted by their mother tongue. One of them is the mysterious Mrs. Barrymore, the female half of the husband and wife team who serve as butler and maid for the estate and easily the most intriguing character in the show.
Director Travis W. Walter has again filled the Meadow Brook stage with a gorgeous set. Scenic designer Jen Price Fick has positioned several multi-leveled platforms center stage which provide a variety of different areas for the play’s various scenes to be enacted and allows for entrances and exits to flow freely. It’s flanked on both sides by three floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with books, beakers, and Victorian bric–a-brac that identify Holmes’s office as a place of knowledge and discovery.
There’s not a very high level of sophistication to “Baskerville’s” comedy, but the show makes up in theatricality what it looses in intelligence. Patrons are advised to bring their imaginations. Madcap mayhem rules, with sight gags galore, costume quick changes, (some of them done right on stage), and snappy one-liners. Sherlock Holmes never investigated a bunch like this and Meadow Brook does both him and Ludwig’s script proud.
Costumes for the production are by Liz Goodall. Lighting is by Reid G. Johnson, with sound by Mike Duncan. No one is credited for the mountains of props, so I guess everyone on the production crew has to pitch in periodically and climb the ladder to dust off those six towers of books and tchotchkes.
“Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” is a Michigan premier and runs through October 30th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248.377-3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theater is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester.